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X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Exciting but fails due to poor handling of the characters.
The third X-Men film is the only consistently exciting film of the series, and it has an intriguing premise whether mutants need to be cured that echoes the first film, now instead of a mutant trying to turn humans into mutants, humans have found a way to turn mutants into humans, so it is more interesting than the disappointing X2. But it is by no means a good film, mainly due to poor character handling.
It's clumsily written. Plot hints are painfully sledge hammered in while new ideas are dropped in with no explanation exactly what is a mutant mark or class? The plot is a little holey, particularly at the finale, which happens far too soon, just over an hour in. To give this idea the attention it needs, and to handle returning characters and new characters sufficiently, this needed to be much longer than an hour and a half.
That's the big problem. The characters. The Last Stand takes characters with little opinion on the cure as leads, sidelining those who do have opinions, such as Rogue, Mystique or Angel. There are too many new characters, who while occasionally interesting, needed to have been set-up in the previous films or left out. No character parallels play out and too many characters die in this film, considering the sparse death list in the previous films is it trying to make up for lost time?
There are serious character issues here, not least almost everyone suddenly being unlikeable, especially Storm, Magneto, Professor X, Bobby and Jean. Leader of the heroes, Professor X, follows the same character arc as in the first two films, but here it isn't handled as skilfully. Leader of the villains, Magneto, having long given up being a sympathetic villain is utterly repulsive and extremely irritatingly played by Ian McKellen, and despite egging Jean on constantly to kill people, still comes out with the worst-delivered line of the film, "What have I done?"
Several main characters clog up the plot and would have been better cut, making room for relevant subplots. The pseudo-romance between Bobby and Kitty is a misstep, seemingly only existing to drive Rogue out of the film, despite her being infinitely more interesting and likable than these two kids, likewise, the desperate 'romance' between Wolverine and Jean is still being paraded around, despite there being no explicable or discernible attraction between them. It is tedious that Wolverine is still desperate to get it on with Jean, despite her now being a completely different person. She is insane, has no personality, and would have been better left at the bottom of the lake at the end of the last film. She is a non-entity of a character, reduced to a psychotic weapon. Whenever the camera pans over to her, it is a jarring reminder that she is even in the film, and when she decides to actually be involved in the finale, this leads to the biggest let down of the film. There are better parallels and subplots that could have culminated here, and it is too easy for the big ending.
Meanwhile, other main characters such as Cyclops, Mystique and Rogue are heartlessly tossed aside both by their friends and the script, and their interesting subplots axed, when these are the strands that should be carrying the film.
Admittedly, new additions Beast and Juggernaut are a lot of fun but however cool six X-Men facing the onslaught of hundreds is, we barely know this small line of underdeveloped, boring characters. And is this really the last stand? Isn't this actually the first stand? It's not even that important.
As usual, my biggest gripe is that Rogue doesn't get to shine, when she has the most potential. When Rogue professes interest in getting cured, Storm claims that there is nothing wrong with her. Rogue's response should have been to touch Storm's face, and see if Storm still thought there was nothing wrong with Rogue, now that she was dead.
Stick to X-Men, and pretend it had no sequels.
Flushed Away (2006)
Too Fast, Not Enough Detail
Short and pacey, Flushed Away doesn't have time to set up its characters or plot in enough detail, making it feel empty.
The moral is obviously that being lonely is bad and lots of friends and family is good, however, especially with Aardman's Wallace & Gromit The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit in mind, it comes across as being rich and posh is bad and common as muck is good, and frankly, this is quite offensive.
Roddy is a pet mouse from Kensington who is flushed down the toilet when a nasty sewer mouse, Sid, breaks into his home. Roddy quickly gets embroiled with a villain plot that doesn't really matter and meets sewer mouse Rita who has a huge family. What is not set up is Roddy's relationship with Tabitha, the little girl who looks after him. This vital element of what a pet's life if like being missing makes Roddy's desire to be like Rita seem like a fad. The audience never sees Roddy's life, so cannot know why he should want to change it. Instead the audience is only given a view of pets from the sewer mice, who know nothing of this life and can't judge. There is also an annoying omission in that at the start Tabitha leaves Roddy too much food while she goes on holiday and at the end he has been replaced by fat Sid. The assumption is that Tabitha will think this is an overfed Roddy, but it is never mentioned, so instead the audience is left to believe that Tabitha simply doesn't notice that her pet has turned into an entirely different creature. Perhaps the makers of the film have never had a pet, and do not understand the close bond that can form. Perhaps they are too busy hating posh people.
Aardman's plasticine-animation style doesn't sit quite right with Dreamworks' lazy computer animation, and Roddy's permanent grin and lack of resemblance to a mouse is slightly annoying, whereas had this been stop-motion it would be endearing and impressive.
Flushed Away is filled with little jokes, details and references that are very hit and miss, so it is down to the individual whether they spend it cracked up with hysterical laughter, or stony faced. This one is very much down to personal taste, but it does need to be longer and more developed.
Too Fast And Devoid Of A Reason To Exist
The fifth Harry Potter film doesn't feel much like a film at all, everything happens too fast, as it whizzes through an entire year of events, lines babbled under too-loud music, making it feel as if nothing is really happening and with no noticeable time actually passing until Dumbledore informs Harry that he has been ignoring him for a year. A year? Surely not. Nothing happened.
Most of the plot is about Dolores Umbridge taking over Hogwarts, which has nothing to do with Lord Voldemort wanting to kill Harry, which is what seems to be happening at the start. Umbridge, a pink-clad giggling bureaucrat from the Ministry of Magic, seizes control of Hogwarts, a character that starts as a clumsy juxtaposition gag she smiles but really she is mean but develops into a chilling child-torturer.
While events surrounding Harry at the start of the film are mildly mysterious and quite creepy, these are instantly dispelled by the horribly disappointing realisation that Harry is going to spend most the film with his two useless sidekicks, Hermione and Ron, who are simply there to stop any of that creepy, interesting stuff going on too long. Emma Watson as Hermione wobbles her head and pronounces syllables that aren't there, failing to be convincing at any point, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry veers wildly from completely believable to child-in-a-school-play acting, and Rupert Grint mumbles his lines, possibly deliberately because Ron is dull and pointless, but if so, Ron really needs to be cut. There is no friendship or love discernible between the characters and every moment Hermione and Ron are on screen is annoying.
On the subject of unbelievable relationships, it is rather tedious that Harry is obsessed with his Godfather Sirius while poor Lupin is forced to the side, even though he clearly cares deeply for the boy. Harry is also still hero-worshipping his father when here we get a glimpse that he was a horrible bully, before moving hurriedly on.
As the plot speeds along, forgetting to be a plot, explained only in the lazy device of spinning newspapers, it crashes into the finale, in which we learn at some point the good guys will fight Lord Voldemort, but it won't be in this film, begging the question, why does this film need to exist? Much like the previous two, it is simply adding in five minutes exposition that might be needed later. There is a bit of a scuffle at the end between the Order of the Phoenix (good guys with white smoke) and the Death-Eaters (bad guys with black smoke) but it is difficult to see who they actually are, and the battle is dull and confusing. Voldemort shows up, looking stupid and rather ill with a flat nose and skinny white arms, in time for a lame ending.
This film is a non-entity, simply setting stuff up for further sequels. At least some day, these will end.
You've Got Mail (1998)
Refreshing, intelligent rom com that works, if only that final scene had been developed
You've Got Mail takes romance and feel-good film clichés, and handles them refreshingly, intelligently and believably with a witty and bouncy script and style, heavily developed characters and is full of nice details, particularly how in love the meaningless becomes meaningful.
The plot is vaguely reminiscent of the 1940 film The Shop Around The Corner, enemies who unwittingly fall in love through the written word, and nods its head to this, but the romance in You've Got Mail is far more central to the plot and the situations and set-up are completely different.
Kathleen owns a friendly children's bookshop, and Joe owns part of a big bad chain store that threatens to swallow Kathleen's simple existence whole, causing Joe to suffer for the pain he causes the woman he loves. This makes Joe a fascinating romantic lead. He is a callous businessman, but with depth and humour as a person. His horror at discovering his anonymous lover is his enemy, the inner turmoil bubbling beneath his eyes for what he has done and his desperation to befriend her and be forgiven when he knows it is too late is all superbly acted by Tom Hanks. Rom-com leads usually go from enemies to lovers, and it is wonderful to see the friendship stage actually broached for once.
The film balances humour and wistfulness with heartbreaking despair, depths not usually covered by rom-coms, as Kathleen must watch all her efforts fail as she loses her mother's shop. It is also pleasing that Kathleen's relationship with boyfriend Frank comes to a natural end, rather than the usual dumping that goes on in such films, and both this relationship and that between Joe and girlfriend Patricia are cleverly set up to show why the couples are together, but that there is no possibility of the long term for them.
However, the ending irritatingly sabotages You've Got Mail's chances of being a classic. Once Kathleen loses her shop, the film switches almost entirely to Joe's perspective, as he tries to become her friend. This throws off the delicate balance that has been the structure so far. And then the last scene, in which Kathleen waits to meet her anonymous lover and is presented with Joe, doesn't work. The 'surprise' tactic is tasteless, as is confirmed by Kathleen bursting into tears, not really the happy ending desired, but instead of these two witty, intelligent and deep people, so recently bitter enemies but now close friends, discussing the coincidence, irony and subterfuge of this situation, they kiss.
One of the best rom-coms made, but the ending brutally stops it being perfect.
Run Fatboy Run (2007)
Take Everything Needed For A Funny And Heart-Warming Film, And Throw Them Away. The Nothing That Is Left Is THIS.
The problem with Dennis, the 'fat boy' of the title, is exactly that. What is his problem? He's a loser, a scumbag and utterly unlikeable, and at no point in the film does he become a nice, likable, or sympathetic character. So it is very hard to root for someone this self-involved. At no point is he ever nasty or pathetic in a funny way, he's just a jerk. And no matter how many 'emotional' scenes are rammed in, it has been five years since he left his pregnant fiancée at the alter. FIVE YEARS of seeing her every day. How is it only NOW that he wants to do anything about it? And it doesn't matter if he does. It's been FIVE YEARS. It's too late. Luckily for him, the people he wants to win back, the dull Libby and their duller son Jake, are so flat, the audience can't care about them either. Especially Jake. And the lazy demonising of Libby's new love Whit is obvious and convenient so Dennis can worm his way back in to Libby's affections after five years of being the most detestable and unreliable jerk she could hope to meet.
So, Run Fat Boy Run isn't funny. There are a couple of jokes that possibly could have worked as part of a sitcom, but never in a one-off film, but just to make it clear, this isn't funny. The serious scenes are even worse, falling horribly, uncomfortably flat, and the painful dragging out of a heart-warming ending is
not heart-warming. There is no character development or motivation, so basically there is nothing here that is needed to make a film. Dire.
It Is What It Is - If Western-Style Historical Battles Are You - Then Go For It
The plot leading up to the battle of 4000 Zulu warriors against only 100 British soldiers is hard to follow, mainly because there are far too many characters to remember who they are and it is difficult to hear what they are saying, and no one bothers to explain the historical setting, so unless the audience has studied 1870s African colonialism wars, they're going to be a bit lost as to what is going on and why.
Scenes of the Zulu warriors dancing, or singing, or preparing for battle are lingered on, presumably because they took a lot of effort to film, but are so long and uneventful, it is difficult to concentrate.
Due to some camp acting and a strange lack of violence, with people being murdered with quick pokes of spears or bayonets as if this is a game of tag, Zulu can be hard to take seriously.
Within the plethora of characters, it becomes questionable who the audience is supposed to like. Perhaps the film makers had no one in mind, and were trying to give an honest portrayal of each man, but each character has moments of likeableness and moments of detestableness so it is difficult to pick favourites, there is an awful lot of setting up of the peace-loving Reverend who becomes a screaming alcoholic force of evil, just because he thinks murder is a sin and the battle of power between Lt Chard and Lt Bromhead makes each constantly switch in the affections of the audience, Bromhead originally being set up as a fop, but later it seeming wrong that Chard is stealing his command.
Zulu is a film that will be liked by those who want to see a film about a historical battle, but it doesn't have anything to offer on any other level. It is exactly like Westerns that focus on homesteaders versus Native Americans, with the small band in the wagon circle being beaten down by an expert warrior race that are on their own land and yet feel like the villains. The Zulu warriors are never represented as bad, in fact they are constantly praised, however, watching 4000 of them attack 100 British soldiers, and willingly sacrifice their own men just to test the enemy weaknesses makes it very hard to want anything other than for them to lose. And towards the end, when the British get some really organised firing lines in action, it is actually quite exciting. Everyone loves the underdog, and a film of 100 men being slaughtered by 4000 men would never have been made, so it is just a matter of sitting it out to see how these few will defeat the many.
Over the Hedge (2006)
Perfectly enjoyable, but somehow forgettable.
An enjoyable and fairly intelligent children's film, making a change from the usual tripe DreamWorks' computer animation studio churns out. RJ the raccoon needs to get food to replace what he stole from an angry bear, so he enlists naive forest animals who have just woken up for spring to find that their forest is now a housing estate. It has a few problems that make Over The Hedge less memorable than it deserves to be, Verne the tortoise, sensible leader of the forest animals, is voiced by Garry Shandling as if he has been tranquillised, even his screaming sounds bored, the pace can be a little slow in places, and the music is far too slow, and there are too many characters to care about, only Hammy the hyperactive squirrel and RJ the scheming raccoon are interesting. Also, the basic plot is a little irritating. RJ is lying to them, they're going to find out, but he really doesn't need to lie to get what he wants, and the moment half way through when Verne destroys all their hard work is infuriating. Unfortunately Over The Hedge is clearly trying for a Woody and Buzz dynamic between Venre and RJ but fails because the film starts with RJ, making him the main character, and he's the one with the personality, so he's the one the audience cares for, so it doesn't come across that he might be stealing Verne's thunder. Basically, Over The Hedge is much more enjoyable than it looks, but it doesn't really linger in the memory once it has finished.
Bad Company (2002)
Would be enjoyable, if Rock and Hopkins had been fired.
Officer Seale (Gabriel Macht) is handsome, brave, intelligent, an ace biker, skilled in gun duels and at dodging bullets, and can even survive being shot in the back at close range. He's great! Unfortunately, he's not the focus of the film. That is shared by street-wise scalp Jake (an irritating Chris Rock who is followed everywhere by blaring rap music) who has to pretend to be his undercover CIA agent brother and dull (not to mention elderly and overweight) Officer Oakes (an unconvincing Anthony Hopkins sleeping through his lines) who has to train Jake to save the world from a nuclear bomb.
Bad Company starts with a clichéd poetic action scene in which Kevin Pope is killed. Enter exposition overload to explain who Jake is and why he has to cover for Kevin. This gets all the information across in a short space, but is so obvious and clumsy, only a child wouldn't be irritated. However, the plot itself is pleasingly straight-forward and sense-making, which isn't often the case in action films, but it does all rest on how lucky the CIA are that Jake is basically a receptive genius. But it can't be that hard for Jake to pretend to be Kevin, since Rock's Kevin acting involves using a quiet monotone and nothing else. This touches on a vague plot hole of the film, in that why does the CIA bother training Jake to act like Kevin, and then training him to act like Kevin acting like Michael Turner (Kevin's alias)? Why not go straight from Jake to Michael, especially since they are not supposed to give Jake any extraneous information that could pop out at the wrong time? Other plot holes include why in the lengthy car chase in which baddies want the bomb that Jake and Oakes have, do they not kill Jake and Oakes when they get the bomb, and undercover agents like Oakes probably shouldn't run around as CIA officers in the middle of undercover operations. Also, there is something extremely tacky about the style in which the diffusing the bomb scene is edited, with lots of random close ups.
All that aside, this is an inoffensive action film, fine for passing the time, although thanks to the two flat leads, probably not one to seek out.
A Horrible Disappointment
Enter a standard Disney cartoon. The cartoon section of the film is supposed to be a homage, or a reference, or a poke at classic Disney cartoons. Instead, it is practically a complete lift from Sleeping Beauty, one of the better early Disneys. This does not come across as intelligent, but as a rip-off, as if it is okay to laugh at Sleeping Beauty because post-modern cartoons have taught the modern audience that the old cartoons weren't very good. Well, mostly they were very good and so far, the post-modern versions haven't touched them in quality.
Edward's stepmother doesn't want Giselle to usurp her throne, so sends Giselle to the live-action real world. Amy Adams plays human Giselle bizarrely, while she clearly isn't a normal person, she doesn't particularly come across as a cartoon. The first part of the film follows Giselle closely, and then suddenly cuts to new characters Robert and his daughter Morgan (who may as well have been cut for the little she does) for no reason, breaking the feeling of continuity, which irritatingly sets how the rest of the film flits between so many characters that none get a good enough set up or development and scenes are endlessly resolved by simply not existing any more.
The romance, the crux of the film, is boring, obvious and has been done too many times before. For a brief moment it seems as if Giselle will help Robert propose to his long-term girlfriend Nancy, while her own love Prince Edward fights to rescue her. However, the film quickly kills this interesting premise after suggesting it, by going back to the dull getting-to-know-you plot and having Giselle randomly state she is on a date with Robert, and proceed to steal him off of Nancy. It is slightly sick that Robert fancies Giselle, since she is basically a child, and she never learns anything about reality, other than dates and hot dogs, because this is a children's film and children aren't allowed to know about reality, which really defeats the point of the film. It would have worked better written for adults, but then wouldn't have done so well at the box office.
The ending, apart from emphasising the bad plot of Robert and Giselle getting together, involves the evil queen turning into a giant dragon to kill Giselle, despite her whole reason for sending Giselle to the real world being to break her up with Edward well, she has succeeded! The Queen wins her evil aim, so what is with the awful dragon stuff? So poor Edward loses the love of his life and Nancy loses her five-year relationship despite telling Robert that she trusted him (she shouldn't, because he runs off with the girl she thinks she can trust him with), but don't worry, no broken hearts for them because they get together for a nice neat, nonsensical ending. They don't know each other at all, she doesn't know he comes from a cartoon and the two scenes which could have helped their relationship feel like it was destined to happen were cut by some idiot editor. That's if it is possible to hear the ending over the blaring music.
So it's a horrible disappointment of a film. Elements of the film that really work are the swashbuckling Prince Edward, brilliantly performed by James Marsden, who is sidelined again (seriously man, get a better agent), and the two moments in the film when Giselle manages to bring her cartoon magic to the real world when she decides to clean the house with the help of local animals (rats, pigeons, flies and cockroaches) and when she starts to sing a song and hundreds of people join in. If these elements had been more central, and the forced romance had been axed (it's yet another they get together because in the course of the film they don't spend any time with anyone else) then Enchanted may have been worth watching, even achieved the classic status it was aiming for, but instead it is vapid and spirit-crushing and an annoying waste of time.
Someone Like You... (2001)
Pointless Rom-Com We've All Seen Done Better
Talk show talent scout Jane (Ashley Judd) is obsessed with her idea that men are like bulls. Her narration announces that the 'cow theory' that men are polygamous and won't go back to an old lover took over her entire life due to a broken heart. This would be more believable if the 'cow theory' actually did take over her entire life. Instead, she comes up with the ungrounded theory, is told it isn't a very good theory repeatedly since all she has to do is look around at say, more than one man, and refuses to admit it could be wrong because if it is, men don't leave all women, they just leave her well, it would be nice if there is any sign of this other than the one break-up within the film.
Then there is the broken heart that sparks all this. It doesn't help that her relationship with Ray (Greg Kinnear) is performed entirely in montages, so the audience can never tell what is so great about it. The editor should have been advised to leave in the deleted scene of Ray telling Jane how he can't stop thinking about her, as as it is, I was never sure why he is with Jane. He tells her that he is in a serious three-year relationship to the one, Jane proceeds to have an affair with Ray, Ray dumps the one, is clearly distraught, then dumps Jane and she is surprised. She was planning on moving in with a guy in a serious relationship, what did she expect to happen? As for the characters themselves, Jane is an uninteresting lead and Eddie (Hugh Jackman), the womanising housemate who is obviously going to end up with her, doesn't have a coherent personality. His inevitable pairing with Jane seems to happen because she only knows two other men, and they're both taken.
Judd and Kinnear have plenty of chemistry, but there is none between Judd and Jackman, which is a huge problem. Also, an odd quirk of the film is that Ray is the nicest Mr Wrong in rom-com history and he would make a more interesting lead than Jane or Eddie.
Animal Attraction desperately tries to adhere to standard rom-com formula and then, as if to break away enough to be remembered, it tries to be quirky, with narration, title cards and mildly surreal elements. Unfortunately, there isn't enough fun in the film to carry these, and the dreary rom-com soundtrack and forgettable names bog it down. A forgettable collapsed soufflé of a film.